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Alabama artists celebrate wildlife at new Wetumpka festival

When Thomas Harris learned that the Kelly Fitzpatrick Memorial Gallery in Wetumpka was featuring Alabama wildlife during its art exhibit series this fall, he envisioned a bigger, more far-reaching event that would have a greater impact on the city as well as the state.

The result: The museum, more commonly known as “The Kelly,” is hosting the first Wetumpka Wildlife Arts Festival, in partnership with the Smoot Harris family and city of Wetumpka. The festival is a celebration of Alabama wildlife and field sports through art, and will culminate with a daylong, action-packed event in the historic downtown.

“In Alabama, we’re all about wildlife, from north to south to east to west,” said Harris, noting that Wetumpka’s central location in the state makes it the perfect spot for the festival. “Our goal includes a desire to benefit the Wetumpka area by helping to increase tourism, impact economic development, expose The Kelly to a wider audience and, hopefully, create an ongoing event for this charming community as it continues to grow into a mecca for the arts.”

Harris, founder of Alabama Black Belt Adventures, grew up in Wetumpka and has deep roots in the community. Additionally, his mother, Ethel Smoot, took art lessons from John Kelly Fitzpatrick, a Wetumpka artist, who, before his death, gained international acclaim for his work.

“My wife, Cindy, and I wanted to give something back to Wetumpka and do it in honor of my family,” said Harris. “I think this will be a fun event with lots of energy and excitement.”

The celebration opens with “Art Gone Wild,” an exhibition at The Kelly that runs from Sept. 27 through Nov. 19 and takes a close look at wildlife and nature through the eyes of local and regional artists, including Sue Key, Dirk Walker and Andrew Lee.

The excitement will build, peaking Nov. 5 with the premiere wildlife arts festival on the banks of the Coosa River. The free event will include demonstrations by award-winning artisans, including chef Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham and woodcarver John David Foote.

Wildrose Kennels, a nationally recognized breeder of British and Irish Labradors, will be at the festival showcasing their sporting dogs. And the Alabama Wildlife Federation, which operates the Alabama Nature Center in nearby Millbrook, will offer animal encounters. Visitors will get the chance to watch animals paint and can purchase their work. There will be educational workshops, crafters, vendors, children’s activities and games, and live music.

“We’re using this momentum to nurture and grow the arts in Wetumpka,” said Belyn Richardson, president of The Kelly, in a news release about the festival. “With beautiful rivers, lakes and abundant wildlife in Elmore County, as well as the nearby Alabama Nature Center, it only made sense for us to partner with the Smoot Harris family and the city to bring a top-tier festival to sweet home Alabama. We’re grateful for their enthusiasm and support.”

Jennifer Eifert, executive director of The Kelly, said the festival will allow visitors to watch artists in action.

“Artists will be painting all around town and selling their pieces at the festival,” she said. “It will be a way for them to get their work in front of a whole new group of people.”

Alabama Power is among the event sponsors, along with the Alabama Wildlife Federation, Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils and Wind Creek Wetumpka.

“The festival will be a great opportunity for people to get out and have a fun day, and see what our beautiful town has to offer,” Eifert said.

For more information and a schedule of events, visit the gallery website at thekelly.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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